Recalling 12 Year Compulsory Education's Teething Pains
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 17, 2014
Summary: The 12 year compulsory education program is our nation's established
educational policy. If we agree that extending compulsory education will
improve the quality of our citizens, then we should not spin our wheels
on admissions policy. We should concentrate on the person to be
educated. Warren Buffett said that the difference between himself and
others is that after he gets out of bed each morning, he has a chance to
do what he wants to do. Call it diversity. Call it special
characteristics. Call it any name you want. The most important thing 12
year compulsory education can do is give children the space to do what
they need to do. Let them discover their own talents, and learn to be
Full Text Below:
The Taipei City Government has abolished the Academic Ability Test for Admission to Senior High School. To avoid controversy, some elite schools have also ceased using the Academic Ability Test. The controversy over 12 year compulsory education has finally been settled. But many people, including Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa, insist that the Academic Ability Test should be retained. After all, diversity in admissions is a core value of 12 year compulsory education. Wu Se-hwa has even encouraged second tier schools to offer the Academic Ability Test in order to compete with first tier schools. Some parent organizations believe that the Ministry of Education exerted political pressure to force schools to abolish the Academic Ability Test, and to eliminate elite education for the sake of ersatz egalitarianism. The rush to adopt 12 year compulsory education has indeed led to endless aftereffects. Now that the political controversy over student recruitment has finally been settled, we need to look back and ask ourselves what was the purpose of 12 year compulsory education?
The purpose of 12 year compulsory education was to improve the quality of our citizenry. The 12 year compulsory education program stressed admissions without entrance exams. The intent was to reduce academic pressure on students and allow senior high schools to become standardized community senior high schools. Students would simply attend the nearest school. Children would be spared academic pressures and commute long distances. Diversity in admissions would encourage senior high schools to offer specialized curricula. The Academic Ability Test was a student recruitment method that would introduce specialized curricula to senior high schools. The goal was to create an environment in which students could fulfill their expectations. So many well-intentioned goals were hitched to the wagon of an admissions test, that its original nature became blurred by controversy.
This year, for the first time, senior high schools will not require entrance examinations. This has led to considerable controversy. Just how many senior high schools that do not require entrance exams must a student apply to before being admitted? Allowing schools to recruit students has already led to confusion and complaints by schools, parents, and students. The brutal reality is that academic pressure on students has not been relieved. Instead new pressures have been created. According to 1111 Job Bank statistics, online tutoring numbers show that between January and August, 10,000 more students applied. This represents a 45% surge over the same period in 2013. It also established a record high since the tutoring network was established. The 12 year compulsory education enrollment program is too complicated. Parents and students are at sea. They must seek help on their own. They can seek help from tailor made tutoring programs. Under the circumstances how can students possibly reduce academic pressure on themselves? Before they had to bone up on English, math, physics, and chemistry. Now they must learn Japanese, take violin lessons, and volunteer for community service. Diversity in admissions and Academic Ability Tests have become distorted. They have become alternative sources of income for cram schools or home tutors.
The Academic Ability Test was supposed to give students with different strengths the opportunity to receive specialized training. Instead, its implementation has merely provided elite schools with a pipeline by which to recruit students more adept at taking tests. It has merely muddied the waters. It has left the Comprehensive Assessment Program for Junior High School Students in a state of uncertainty, and students and parents in a state of anxiety.
The Academic Ability Test has morphed into a back door for elite senior high schools. It has already violated the spirit of diversity. It has even less to do with education tailored to the student's potential. It merely perpetuates academic test scores as an admissions threshold. It merely engages in pretense. Schools have blind faith in test scores. Parents continue to have blind faith in the values held by elite schools. It will probably be a long time before students on Taiwan can receive an education tailored to the student's potential.
Everyone is suggesting cures for the problems caused by 12 year compulsory education. The cures suggested include more "specialized curricula" once the Academic Ability Tests are abolished and insufficient diversity becomes a problem. The school districts for Taipei and Keelung will be reduced in size. A student will first obtain Comprehensive Assessment Program test scores, then arrange for Academic Ability Tests. The 12 year compulsory education program has just been launched. Yet patchwork repairs are already required. One can safely predict that the situation will soon be even more fragmented and confusing. Worse still, the suggested cures are mere technicalities. The 12 year compulsory education program has become a big brawl over school admissions. How can this possibly be the object and purpose of education?
If we really want diversity, if we really want education tailored to the student's potential, we must begin by respecting individual differences and traits. In the book "Now, Discover Your Strengths," Donald Clifton, the "the Father of Strengths Psychology," proposed that education should transform talent into ability and enable people to feel a sense of accomplishment. Our society does not need perfect people with perfect test scores. If a person can find and use his innate talent, he can make a meaningful contribution to himself and to society. The book "Talk Like TED:The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds," mentions a touching example -- the story of "Phantom of the Opera" choreographer Dame Gillian Barbara Lynne. When Lynne was young, her mother discovered that she liked to move around and couldn't concentrate. So she took her to see a doctor. The doctor discovered that Lynne loved dancing. She told the mother to send Lynne to dance school to learn dance. As a result, Lynne became a superstar in the dance world. Just imagine what would have happened if Lynne's mother had insisted that Lynne quiet down, read books, and study for exams?
The 12 year compulsory education program is our nation's established educational policy. If we agree that extending compulsory education will improve the quality of our citizens, then we should not spin our wheels on admissions policy. We should concentrate on the person to be educated. Warren Buffett said that the difference between himself and others is that after he gets out of bed each morning, he has a chance to do what he wants to do. Call it diversity. Call it special characteristics. Call it any name you want. The most important thing 12 year compulsory education can do is give children the space to do what they need to do. Let them discover their own talents, and learn to be happy.